County Government Explained

by David Barber

What is a Justice of the Peace, anyway?

To explain county government, it’s useful to start with city government. You probably know that the city does things like build roads, pay for police and fire services, and make some rules about things you can and can’t do in the city. A city has a mayor and city council, and they get together once a month to decide how to do all those things.

What you might not know, and it’s probably why you’re reading this, is that the county operates in much the same way. But, just to make things a bit more confusing, the words for each piece are different.

If we compare the county government to the city government, then, the ‘mayor’ of the county is called a county judge and the county ‘councilors’ are called justices of the peace.

To clarify, neither the county judge nor the justices of the peace (JPs) are typical judges like you might be thinking of, who sit in a courtroom and decide cases. No legal training is required to be a JP or County Judge.

Adding to the confusion, the legislative body composed of the county judge and the JPs is called the Quorum Court. In the same way the City Council meets to decide city business, and the House and Senate meet to decide state business, the Quorum Court meets to decide county business.

So what does the Quorum Court do?

We have said that the Quorum Court meets to decide county business. But what IS ‘county business’?

In general, the overall powers of the county government are set by the state.

Specifically, we turn to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas to detail what the county does:

Quorum courts fix the number and compensation of deputies and county employees and fill vacancies in elective county offices. The ordinances enacted by the quorum courts generally relate to property of the county and its maintenance and improvement. This includes county roads, bridges, buildings, vehicles, and whatever else the county government owns to serve the citizens of the county. Many Arkansans live in cities or towns, but those who do not reside in incorporated communities receive services instead from their county government, including police protection, road building and maintenance, and water.

How does this all fit together?

There are certain things we all want to happen in the county. We all want good roads, and we all want protection from fire and crime. We elect the justices of the peace to determine the best way to make those things happen. We elect the assessor to accurately assess the value of property, The collector to collect the appropriate amount of taxes, and the treasurer to keep track of that money. The Quorum Court is then able to use that money to do the things we want them to do, setting the budget for things like roads and the sheriff’s office. Without each of these officials properly performing their duties, none of that is possible.

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